How it started 20 years ago

As Europe struck New Years 20 years ago, 12 of its countries said goodbye to their deutschmarks, French francs, lire and pesetas as they welcomed the single euro currency.

On January 1, 2002, euro banknotes and coins became a reality for some 300 million people from Athens to Dublin, three years after the currency was officially launched in a “virtual” form.

Here’s a recap of the event, taken from an AFP copy at the time:

– Fireworks –

Away from the austere New Years celebrations imposed by Covid 20 years later, fireworks, music and lights erupted at midnight on January 1, 2002 to mark the biggest monetary change in history.

AFP reported that many people have missed their traditional New Year’s celebrations, preferring to queue at ATMs in their enthusiasm to get their hands on the first blank euro banknotes.

In Berlin, the Germans said hello to the euro and goodbye to their beloved brand in a special ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate, as up to a million people crowded the streets for the traditional giant New Years street party.

The cash euro has also been a hit in cafes and the Amsterdam Red Light District.

Irish revelers were less eager to welcome the euro, however, continuing to pay for Guinness, Ireland’s favorite drink, in the national currency, leaving the puzzle of passage overnight.

– Price increases –

As many feared, the changeover to the euro caused sporadic price hikes across Europe.

From Spanish bus tickets, which jumped 33%, to a Finnish bazaar, where “everything for 10 markka (1.68 euro)” was now “everything for two euros”, many price tags were a little higher since the single currency became legal tender.

Then European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, who warned traders not to use the euro’s launch to raise prices, said he saw no signs of widespread abuse .

“When I bought a Big Mac and a strawberry milkshake this week, it cost 4.45 euros, which is exactly the same amount I paid for the same meal last week,” said Duisenberg to reporters.

– Hiccups –

Europe was surprised at the almost smooth transition to the single currency, AFP reported.

The Germans, known to be skeptical of the single currency and nostalgic for their mark, turned out to be among the most enthusiastic.

An editorial in the popular German tabloid Bild proclaimed: “Our new money is moving at full speed. No problem saying goodbye to the brand, no tears to shed.

The initial “europhoria” was however tempered by the appearance of some setbacks, such as liquidity shortages, long queues at banks, post offices and toll booths.

France urged citizens not to rush suddenly to the banks with their savings, often piled up under mattresses and in jars of jam, as they had until June 30 to dispose of their francs in commercial banks and until 2012 at the Banque de France.

And the European Commission has reported minor problems in the distribution of small euro banknotes and coins in most countries.

Duisenberg said, however, that he was sure January 1, 2002 would be marked in the history books as the start of a new European era.

bur / jmy / ber / lth / ser

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